Commencement

Lesley Adams

Chaplain Lesley Adams HON'12, HON'15
May 16, 2015

Here We Go Again
Baccalaureate 2015

I don’t know about you in the classes of 2015, but I have been asked the same small set of questions so many times in the last few weeks that I feel like recording an answer on my phone and playing it back.  “How does it feel to be finished?” “What are you going to do next?”  And I think to myself, “Here we go again!”

And yet, what an opportunity.  Every time someone asks, I have the opportunity to process and re-process this amazing, complex set of experiences and relationships, the change and growth with all its bumps and bruises along the way.  I have begun to realize that part of transitioning from one stage of life to another involves these ritual interactions, these opportunities to process letting go.

Tomorrow will be Commencement Day, the day to celebrate new beginnings.  But today we focus on saying good-bye to all we leave behind.

We have all left places and life stages before, graduated from middle school and high school, left for camp, left for college.  After a while we realize, Life is a series of departures, of leavings, of goings.  And here we go again.

The question before today us is,
How do we say good-bye faithfully and with integrity?  How do we let go?

Like every spiritual practice, letting go requires that we be Present.  And for me, letting go requires two other practices: Gratitude and Forgiveness.

All of our roles are changing – students are becoming alums and soon I will no longer be chaplain.  Pretty soon I will need to change my Instagram account from Chaplainlma to some new moniker.

When people ask us, what’s next, they are, in a way, asking us, “Who’s next?”  Who are you becoming?

Part of saying good-bye is saying goodbye to the person we have been as we figure out who we are becoming.  And transitioning identities can be a somewhat fraught experience.  On the one hand it feels good!  It’s exciting to be a ‘grown-up’ at last.  I know many of you are happy to be starting on trail of adult life, supporting your self, preparing for career.  But this transition can also be terrifying!  You may be asking yourself, “Can I do it?  Can I make it?”  You may be scared, unsure of this new identity. 

When “who are you?” has been answered by “student” for so long, it’s uncomfortable to answer the question.  It may be tempting to get sucked into, I am my job – Who are you?  I am a Doctor, Lawyer, Teacher, Chaplain.  Those of you with less glamorous jobs will realize more quickly you are not fully defined by your job! 

This transition is an opportunity for all of us to re-think our identity to remember “Who are you?” is not the same as “What do you do with your time?” or “ What do you do to earn a living?”  “Who are you?” may not be a question that is easily answered with simple nouns.  Perhaps we need active sentences to name us at a deeper level.  Perhaps Max can name himself – “I am practicing Tikun Olam”.  Ami can call herself – “I am observing and being part of positive change”.  Clara – I am soul-baring.  Dollian – “I am giving myself to my community”.

So when people ask you “What’s next?”, take the opportunity to be present to the underlying question, “Who are you becoming?” Reflect on your changing identity.  Are you becoming Standing Up For Justice?  Protecting the Environment?  Painting Reality with Brush or Pen?  Waiting for the Mystery to Unfold?

This practice of being present to change will serve us well when we need to leave again, as we surely will. 

And every time we leave there will be pain and tears.

[In a grandmotherly voice] “What are you so upset about, Honey?  You have a great life ahead of you?” 

I know when people say this to us they are trying to be helpful.  But to me it is like asking, [same voice] “Why are you so sad about breaking up with your partner?  You know you weren’t good for each other.  You will find a better one.”  To me asking graduates why they are crying is like asking “Why are you so upset about dying?  You know we are all going to a better place.“ 

I say, let’s go ahead and be sad.  It’s quite true that we all have the possibility of wonderful new life ahead of us, but this leaving, this transition, is still a little death.  It’s still a letting go.  And death is always hard and sad, even if you have lived a good life and are ready to let go.  

Here is the thing: Letting Go is a spiritual practice.  Life is full of letting go, and each time we get to practice how to do it with faithfulness and grace.

How do we learn to let go?  How do we remain faithful to the full range of feelings, so that we can find new life and find it abundantly?
 
Gratitude and forgiveness are good places to start.

Dollian and Ami began their introductions with thank-yous.  I appreciate that.  Gratitude is part of answering the question, who are you becoming?  What have we been given here in these relationships, these experiences?  I have heard so many of you telling faculty, staff, and friends thank you for what you did or said or modeled or taught.  Thank you.  I am becoming a new person because of you.

In order to let go, also need to let go of grudges, hurts; let go of the times we have felt misunderstood.  In my religious tradition we learn we have the power to release the sins of others or to bind them.    Letting go is so much better!  There is no need for us to pack those painful experiences in our bags and take them with us.

Let’s let them fly up into the air, out over the lake.  Say good-bye to them as well.  And where we know we have had a hand in the pain of others, let’s take a moment to make it right.  

When we practice letting go through gratitude and forgiveness, we have the possibility of moving joyfully into New Life. 

Learning to live lightly to our attachments, we can enjoy everything to the utmost, yet let go easily and gracefully when the time comes to move on.

This past week, the Hobart and William Smith Community lost a dear friend, colleague,  and mentor, Professor Maureen Flynn.  One of her friends wrote to me the following:

We noted that Maureen lived and died like she swam…with beauty, grace, freedom, and endurance, quietly slipping in and out of the water without a splash, savoring the total sensory experience of life.

The beauty of this spiritual practice of letting go in order to live more fully, is that we too can learn to live, as Naomi Shihab Nye put it in her poem “Adios”,

“touching everything easily,
letting everything, easily, go.”

We can laugh as we surrender to the comic joke which causes us to love so deeply and then, be forced, every time, to let go, and say simply,

“Here we go again!”

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Commencement 2015

Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.